Of the top ten countries in the world for foreign tourist arrivals, Spain is second behind France. | Josep Bagur Gomila


The 2016 economic impact report published by the World Travel & Tourism Council revealed that travel and tourism were responsible for ten per cent of all jobs on the entire planet - 292 million jobs. Even for statistics sceptics, these were figures to make one sit up. They were probably pretty accurate, as accurate as it is possible to be when taking account of almost 200 countries and idiosyncrasies there may be in terms of countries' statistical processes.

The WTTC is a sort of private-sector alternative to the UN World Tourism Organization, and during the crisis it has been having as visible a role as the UNWTO, not least in assessing the global impact. An evaluation it offered in late April suggested global losses for travel and tourism of 2.7 billion dollars and 100 million jobs: around a third of jobs worldwide, therefore.

Also in late April, there was a videoconference involving G20 tourism ministers. Spain isn't a member of the G20, the country is just a "permanent guest invitee", which in terms of tourism is something of an aberration. Of the top ten countries in the world for foreign tourist arrivals, Spain is second behind France. Thailand is the only other non-G20 country in the top ten, which is completed by the US, China, Italy, Turkey, Mexico, Germany and the UK.

Spain would no doubt have found a way to speak up for its interests at that meeting, for these interests aren't solely confined to the country itself. The global investment in travel and tourism is obviously enormous, and Spain is among the leading investors. Critics of hoteliers will maintain that they are diverting their investment away from Spain, but this is nonsensical criticism. An international company, by its very definition, is active in foreign markets, and internationalisation is essential for growth. Alongside this comes supplemental value from goods' exports. One only has to consider figures for the value of specific Balearic exports to appreciate this. When hoteliers from the islands are busy with development or re-development overseas, the value of furniture exports shoots up.

That the G20 should have had a specific meeting for tourism indicates just how important tourism is. The investment clearly isn't just in real estate, facilities and decoration; it is in people as well, and around a third of jobs are forecast to be wiped out. To give the impression, as Spain's consumer affairs minister has, that tourism is low added value is fatuous when consideration is given to the value that tourism creates for economies as a whole.

But the argument is made, and with just cause, that so much of this employment is low paid and can seem to be (or be) exploitative. It's true to say that at the level of many specific jobs in tourism, there is low added value. No one can deny this, but as one commentator has observed apropos the Alberto Garzón row (which is stubbornly refusing to die down) - what else is there?

Fernando Urrea headed his opinion piece with the question - why do they want to work in tourism? The answer is that there aren't sufficient alternatives, and part of the fault for this lies with Spanish governments and ministers who talk a lot but never manage to create economic activities that offer employment. He is absolutely right, and the same applies to other countries.

So, of the 292 million jobs that the WTTC has identified, how many of these might be defined as not being low added value? Everywhere needs chambermaids, bar staff, kitchen helpers and so on. Then there are the likes of receptionists. According to one source, the average salary of a hotel receptionist in Spain in 2020 is 15,683 euros per annum. Another source, and this is for the official collective bargaining rates in the Balearics, gives a monthly average for a four and five-star hotel of 1,618 euros: higher on an annual basis, but how many receptionists are working all year? The rate in the Balearics, as indeed is the case for most jobs in hotels, is one of the highest if not the highest in the country because of the collective bargaining agreement.

In Spain in the final quarter of last year (so not at the peak), 2.67 million people were employed in tourism. This number equated to 13.4% of all employment, higher therefore than the WTTC global figure. In the Balearics at the height of the season, this is nearly 30%. What percentage of this 30% would consider themselves to be well paid? What percentage of this 30% would opt for alternative and higher-paid forms of employment? If only these alternatives existed. But they don't.